The Bible in Africa: Transactions, Trajectories, and Trends

By Gerald O. West; Musa W. Dube | Go to book overview

NEW TESTAMENT EXEGESIS IN (MODERN) AFRICA1
Grant LeMarquand

The opinion is often expressed that the world view of African peoples is close to the Old Testament, or that Africans feel more at home with the Old Testament than with the New. Kwesi Dickson, for example, has explored what he calls the “African predilection for the Old Testament” noting even that some early African Christian leaders worried that since the Old Testament atmosphere was so congenial converts “might not want to go further” (Dickson 1984: 146, cf. Dickson 1973, Dickson 1979).

It would seem to be true that the Old Testament is used in African preaching more frequently than it is used in the pulpits of North Atlantic countries. It is also true that many Old Testament ideas which seem quite foreign to western minds appear to be readily comprehensible in African contexts. It is easier to understand the meaning of the concept of “covenant, ” for example, if one's people practices covenant rituals (Arulefela 1988). Sacrificial rituals found in Old Testament narratives and legal texts seem to be more easily appreciated by African people who have seen sacrifices performed (Ukpong 1987). Some Old Testament wisdom literature may be more easily grasped by African peoples who have rich proverbial traditions (Nare 1986, Golka 1993, Masenya 1996). The Old Testament Levirate marriage traditions are certainly understandable amongst a people (like the Luo of Kenya and Tanzania) who have similar traditions (Kirwen 1979). Most Africans do seem to feel “at home” with the Old Testament—at least compared to many readers from the Northern Hemisphere.

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1
New Testament exegesis is not new to the continent of Africa, of course. The scholarly efforts of Origen in Egypt and Augustine in Hippo, North Africa, are well known. The exegetical tradition of the Ethiopian Church has been examined in some depth (Cowley 1983, Cowley 1988, Mikre-Selassie 1972, Mikre-Selassie 1993). These exegetical traditions are still of vital importance, especially in the liturgy of the Ethiopian Orthodox churches (LeMarquand, 1998). The ancient Nubian Church produced its own translation of the Bible, but few manuscripts are extant. As the title of this article states our primary concern is with African scholarship as it has emerged in the modern period.

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